Wednesday, November 13, 2013
But, I digress...
Distraction has become something of a national fad that is becoming more and more of a national nightmare. Texting and driving is killing way too many people and yet, every day we see someone driving distracted, or checking Facebook during a movie, or a family sitting together at dinner not talking because everyone has their phone out.
Seriously, when did we lose the ability to focus in America?
Apparently, this has been seen on the horizon for some time. Check out this comic strip from 1906 that predicts what will happen if a wireless telegraph machine is ever invented.
But, there is a deeper issue at work here that really is dangerous and needs to be addressed. As we lose our ability to focus we are also losing our ability to think deeply and critically about the issues that truly matter today. In our churches, pastors are commonly called on to be "more practical" with shorter sermons. Gone are the days of true theological discourse that could be "applied" to all areas of life because of its breathtaking depth. (See Jonathan Edwards if you would like an example.) No sir. Now the sermon is seen as the infomercial between schizophrenic worship sets that are complete with smoke and lights.
Churches are not the only group affected. Take our wonderful politicians in Washington and at the State level. Gone are the days of true debate where those running for office were allowed to question each other and had to give real, substantive answers. Nope, just stick to talking points, recycle old cliches and count on the public tuning you out after 30 seconds because some celebrity is drunk and acting the fool again.
Proverbs 4:25 says "Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you."
One of the wisest men who ever lived, Solomon, warned us against allowing ourselves to be distracted. His instruction was to stay focused on our path, our destination, and our purpose. Solomon's dad David wrote in Psalm 119:147-148 "I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may MEDITATE on your promises."
Rising early, staying awake at night and meditation on God's words are all images of prolonged focus. In an age of everything "right now" and even "Your Best Life Now" God's ways are calling us to slow down, focus and think about his promises and words. In short, we are to keep ourselves focused on the truth and refuse to be distracted from it.
If the ancient wisdom was to focus and think deeply, then the modern folly is to be distracted by everything and yet see nothing. If we want to stop being taken advantage of by slick politicians, catchy salespeople, and ill trained, theologically incompetent church leaders, it is time for us to stop worrying so much about who got voted off of Idol and start focusing on truth until it finds its way into our lives, our families and our communities.
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Do you want to be happy? Do you want fulfillment? Do you feel like you were made for success? Then we have an offer for you! It is time for you to live "Your Best Life Now!" Pastor Joel Osteen wants to help you become everything you ever wanted to be because as a child of the King you were made to be rich, successful, at ease, and have perfect teeth just like him. So come on and start claiming everything you ever wanted. Don't worry about the cost, God has already taken care of that. Just start living!
Aside from Osteen's complete lack of Biblical knowledge, fake smile, and his canned repeat sermons there is something far more sinister about his message. It's like we've heard this before somewhere. Can't quite place it? Let me point it out...
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
From the beginning, Satan has tricked humanity into believing that they are made for something more than serving God, that we could actually be God.
And he is still doing it today.
The "Best Life Now" brand of Spirituality isn't about God, Jesus, or even being spiritual in the sense of looking for greater purpose or meaning. It is about inflating the ego of sinful people who have no sense of God and therefore attach God to materialistic success.
When the message of Osteen's "Best Life Now" is held up against the Gospel message preached by Jesus, it is found so completely lacking that one wonders if Osteen has ever actually read the Gospels.
Osteen says "God wants to increase you financially, by giving you promotions, fresh ideas, and creativity."
Osteen says "Your best days are ahead of you."
Jesus said "If they hated me, they will hate you" and "blessed are you when you are persecuted" and "take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me."
Osteen is merely a false prophet cashing in on humanity's longest running delusion. Namely, that we can have the favor of God and still hold on to our sin. Or, to put it another way, we can reject God's standards and still claim to be good people because we are "happy." And, if we are "happy" it must be proof that God is for us.
The major flaw in this thinking is that the proof of what God thinks of us is found in the cross of Jesus Christ. God has already provided your best life now in the cross. The Christian life is not about what material success we achieve in this world, but about what Jesus Christ achieved for us on the cross. This is what makes Osteen's message and those like him so absolutely insidious.
It takes our attention off of Jesus and places it squarely on us. Even if we are trying to be "good people" and do "good things" with our success, we are still focused on ourselves with the incorrect idea that we can somehow be righteous or see proof of God's favor apart from Christ.
Some have described this as "all the blessings of God without the sacrifice" but it is worse than that because the blessings of God have nothing to do with financial and material success. We simply have to stop thinking that because we did the right thing, God is waiting to give us everything we want.
Jesus has told us that to follow him we must carry the cross of self-denial. Stop looking for meaning, happiness, fulfillment, or favor in anything in this world. You must look to the cross and the cross alone.
Quit defining yourself by your own feelings and take on the identity that Christ gives you as a part of His body that has been redeemed by the cross. Stop thinking about your own happiness and start thinking about Christ's sacrifice and what it means to your life.
The truth is that as long as we continue to ignore the truths of scripture in favor of feeling "happy" or "contented" or "fulfilled" we prove that we have not even begun to enter into denying ourselves and carrying a cross. Do you want to rise Above Reality? Then reject the gods of this reality and follow the God of Heaven and Earth. Learn His ways, His values, His Truth, and Trust Him instead of your own feelings. Your life is not about living "Your Best Life Now."
Your life is about moving from Death to Life through the perfect life, sacrificial death, and physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Stop looking at yourself and start looking to the cross.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
This thought has led to thousands of sermons about Paul in the book of Acts preaching on Mars Hill quoting the pagan poets Aratus and Epimenides in Acts 17:28 as proof that Christians need to be connected to the culture in order to spread the Gospel. After all, we must speak a language that the people understand and relate to, right?
On the other hand there are those who will run to Paul's statement to the Corinthians about only knowing Christ and him crucified and nothing else. After all, the Gospel is relevant enough, right?
What if both are right and both wrong because they have missed the point of the Gospel? When the church's focus is on being culturally relevant, this is often the result:
The goal of the church seems to turn into an endless pursuit of trying to impress an unbelieving world by trying to look and act as much like the world as possible.
Instead of discussing the nature of the culture we are in and worrying about being relevant to a culture that neither understands nor worships God, maybe we should start having a discussion about the very nature of the Gospel. What is that nature?
Yes, Subversion. The Gospel is about subverting culture, which requires understanding the nature of the culture we live in, and how the Gospel would change it in light of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the reality of the coming Kingdom of God.
This is exactly what Jesus, Paul, Peter and every other successful preacher of the Gospel has understood and practiced. Jesus entered a culture and was well acquainted with it. He understood the culture all too well and then taught with statements like "You have heard it said 'love your friend, and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you." Jesus was being culturally relevant by stating a commonly held, popular belief of his day and then he subverted it to God's purposes. He refused to embrace it. In fact, he demolished it in favor of the ways of God.
Paul did the same thing with his sermon on Mars Hill. He wasn't embracing the pagan culture, he used it to demolish the polytheistic culture that grieved him so badly. Sure, the people recognized what he was saying, but it wasn't so that he could feed them something that was already killing them. Rather, it was for the purpose of destroying the foundation of their polytheistic culture in light of the knowledge of the One True God who created Heaven and Earth and sent His Son to die for the sins of the world.
Subversion. It is what we are all about. And yes, it is going to make some people, very, very angry. The Church isn't going to look cool. The Church will be at odds with the world powers just as it has been for almost 2000 years.
Get over it.
If you want to serve God and His Kingdom, you must understand that we are not called to cultural relevance, but to Kingdom Relevance. God's Kingdom that is.
Take for example Jesus' introduction to the sermon on the mount, or really the whole sermon for that point beginning in Matthew 5.
Blessed are the poor in Spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the Pure in Heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted.
Everything in that list is turning popular concepts in his culture upside down. He is subverting the value system, politics, economics, and philosophies that were prevalent in his day. Sure, it was relevant alright. Why? Because it was (and is) the complete opposite of everything that people naturally pursue, believe, and practice.
Subversion. It is the nature of the Gospel and God's Kingdom.
So what does this have to do with today? Oh, let me count the ways.
1. The Worship wars. Enough already. We live in a culture of consumerism and the more we cater to desires and styles that "speak" to people who are driven by consumerism, the more the Gospel is going to be lost and the Spirit of God ignored. We must, MUST stop worrying about our own entertainment and learn what it means to worship in Spirit and in Truth. That is, Worship GOD. Not fulfill my own desires for a killer praise band, a guitarist that can shred my face off, and a worship set that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy or a worship style that reminds me of what I remember as a child back in the "good ole days." The whole argument about style is nothing more than consumers fighting over what they want. This is not SPIRIT AND TRUTH. Worship is to be subversive to consumerism, selfishness, and personal desires. Worship is about God, not me. If the unbelieving world is comfortable with our worship of God, then I can assure, something is wrong with the way we are worshiping God.
2. The self help craze. 3 Minutes to a better you because every day is Friday during your best life now. Our culture is infatuated with self-improvement, personal appearance, personal peace, and personal prosperity. Guess what, not the Gospel's concern. Jesus did not come to die on the cross so you could have a nice house and be happy according to cultural standards. Yet, we see self-help books line the shelves at Christian stores. Our music is more about our feelings than the power of God or the Gospel truth. Jesus and the Gospel are so subversive to these ideas that many Christians won't even hear it today. Jesus said "Deny Yourself, take up your cross and follow me." He did not say "Come to me and I will make your life work out." The Gospel requires that I get over myself. If my faith is not leading me to become less worried about myself, then I am not serving God, because God will subvert that part of you and me. John the Baptist said it best "He must increase, and I must decrease."
These are just two examples, albeit major ones, in our culture today. The fact of the matter is simple. The Gospel is subversive. The Gospel will make you uncomfortable. God will not tell you everything is okay, if everything is not okay. The Spirit will convict you and make you feel bad about the sin in your life. God is not interested in a person steeped in sin having a good self-esteem.
The Church cannot focus on being culturally relevant while at the same time trying to be subversive. You will be one or the other. If you truly understand the Gospel, then it will lead to reject much of the culture we live in and start living in light of the Truth of God's word. That is, once you can get over yourself.